Postcards

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Proof that the “just one more” mentality really adds up. These pretty pictures hail from Havana, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Arizona, Colorado and Rhode Island.

Postcards are bought and sent on the honor system. These days, you can buy Grand Canyon souvenirs miles away from the park, so travel relics aren’t proof you’ve actually been somewhere.

I try to only buy postcards of places I’ve been or seen first-hand, but sometimes I cave for a really pretty picture. It’s tough, though, to master the art of Postcard Sending. Even in the age of Twitter, it’s challenging for someone as verbose as me to fit a thoughtful message in the space of about half an index card.

So I’ve created a new postage-free travel blog, CloosVentures, which I hope to actually update more than once a century.  It’s one of those things I’ve talked about for ages, but in a typical Cloos move, I’ve only sat down to work to avoid a greater task: Postcarding.

If you’re feeling the lack of postcards and want to feel special, sign up for email updates and it’ll be just like you’re getting an e-postcard when I write more stuff, complete with pretty pictures.

Right now I’m in Colorado Springs, Colorado, working as a local news intern for The Gazette. I’m always looking for new places to explore, so holler at me if there’s a place you think I should visit.

Enjoy!

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Greensboro locals build part of Mountains to Sea Trail

A few dozen outdoor enthusiasts gathered recently to construct a portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail, which runs the length of North Carolina. The group graciously let me get away with working a camera instead of the ground, but just this time. Many of the trail builders encouraged me to come back as a volunteer, and they promised to put my strength to the test.

This photo story was a project for a photojournalism class and includes the voices of John McCullough and David Craft.

On Election Day, economy is No. 1 for voters

Kassondra Cloos
Copy Editor

Elon University sophomores Ryan Hodges and Lauren Speranza campaigned for Dan Forest for lieutenant governor for a political science class about campaign management. Photo by Kassondra Cloos.

The First Baptist Church on East Haggard Avenue in Elon hardly saw the chaotic hustle and bustle typical of Election Day. Unlike some of the early voting days in Alamance County, there were no lines out the door, and no hour-long waits. Before lunch time, voters could get in and out of the polls in about 20 minutes—or even quicker, if they knew exactly whom they wanted in office.

But not everyone at the polls today had already made decisions about every race before showing up to vote. Elon University sophomore Lauren Speranza campaigned all morning for Dan Forest, who is running for lieutenant governor, and said she hadn’t expected some people to still be undecided.

“Our job is to get to each individual voter, especially as they come up to the polls,” she said. “Surprisingly, not everyone has made up their mind when they get here.

She, other campaigners and even candidates themselves, like Katie Overby, greeted voters as they walked up to the polling center and thanked people for taking the time to head to the polls and take their civic responsibilities seriously. Some campaigners handed out guide sheets for those interested in voting a straight ticket, because not every local position is a partisan one.

Most voters willing to share their opinions said jobs and the economy were vote-deciding issues for them, and they supported Mitt Romney for president and Pat McCrory for North Carolina governor.

“If you judged the candidates based on their previous results, Mitt Romney has run a successful capitalist venture company,” said sophomore Ryan Hodges, also campaigning for Forest. He and Speranza were required to help with campaigns as part of a political science class. “If I’m looking at the last four years of American under President Obama, things are just getting worse and we’re getting to the point where I don’t think we’d be able to recover after another four years.”

Don Jefferson, a 79-year-old Elon resident, said honesty was the most important issue for him in this election. He would not say whether he voted for President Barack Obama, but he said he thought Mitt Romney was a liar.

“He has no scruples, among other things that you can’t say in public,” Jefferson said. “Listen to the commercials. When he comes up there and he says, ‘The auto industry, you never should have done that, I wouldn’t have done that,’ and then he turns around and says, ‘Well that was my idea.’”

All surveyed voters said they were more interested in the national election than the local and North Carolina state races. One Elon student, junior Dave Stone, said he didn’t recognize any of the local names on the ballot and thought voting for the “head honcho” was most important.

“I actually just picked who I thought had the funniest or best name, locally,” he said.

Beth Nall, a retired Alamance County teacher, said she finds the national election to be of greater importance, too. She said she really wants to see some change from the past four years and she hoped Romney would be able to offer that.

“We need a change,” she said.  “We’ve already had four years of the other, so I think something new might be invigorating, especially for you young folks out there. I think change is good and hopefully that’ll happen.”

Whatever happens tonight, whether Romney or Obama takes North Carolina or the whole race, Nall said it’s important just for people to use their voices in the electoral process.

“I just think it’s important that we all have our say and we all have our vote and this is your one and only chance so I think if you don’t try to fix the problems, or at least express your opinion through a vote, you really have not done your duty,” she said. “And it is a privilege.”

REVIEW: Rowling’s ‘Casual Vacancy’ hits hard but falls short of expectations

Kassondra Cloos
The Pendulum

There may not be anything magical about the tiny town of Pagford, where spells and wands are replaced by curse words and gestures never seen from any of J.K. Rowling’s previous characters, but the author hasn’t lost her touch.

It’s unfair to compare “The Casual Vacancy” with the likes of “Harry Potter,” but it’s also impossible to separate Rowling from the series. It’s particularly challenging to let go of the hope that there will be some magic when the voices of the narrators are practically identical.

“The Casual Vacancy” is about a small town where internal battles among family and frenemies are masked by the overarching political scramble to fill a councilman’s seat vacated by death. Casual.

Of course, Rowling’s vocabulary has gotten quite a bit more colorful as she has attempted to distinguish herself as a versatile writer. But harping on the specific words she’s penned for the first time doesn’t do justice to the complicated web she has weaved, putting the reader inside the mind of every character and showing, from various angles, how each person’s choices, actions and words can have dramatic — even deadly — consequences on another’s life.

Yes, there are some tough topics in the book. Rowling goes down the list and checks off rape, death (of all kinds), drug addiction, cradle-robbing, mental disorders, child and spousal abuse, teenage sex, adult sex and many other heavy-hitters that often appear alone in other books, somber enough by themselves.

But, perhaps more importantly, Rowling expertly tackles pettiness, selfishness, vicious gossip and true hardship. It takes her a little while to fully entrance the reader, but the last part of the book is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It’s highly predictable, seems to unfold far too quickly and many conflicts go unresolved. Rowling’s point, though, is not lost.

In detailing the lives of Pagford’s “finest” citizens, Rowling draws stark parallels with reality. The most shocking characters are not those who shoot up or slap their children around, but those who unashamedly take pleasure in others’ unhappiness, and even seek to instigate it.

These are the kinds of crimes that often go unpunished in our own world. It’s quite plausible Rowling has used her position as a powerful author to ask us to take a good, hard look at ourselves and, please, for the love of the innocent victims we either don’t see or just plain ignore, soften our hearts even the slightest bit.

The book probably won’t get much love once the initial flock of Rowling fanatics has bought its fair share of copies, and it’s easy to see that it’s being read for its author, not for its content. Even though the storyline is unique, Rowling approaches it with a simplistic, almost childlike attitude that makes it easy to forget it’s meant for adults.

The characters are complex and mostly well-developed, but there are quite a few of them. Almost too many, it seems, for it takes the reader at least 100 pages, if not more, to fully get into the story and remember who everyone is. Barring the infamous Weedon family and the late councilman, Barry Fairbrother, it would not be a travesty to pick one character at random and delete him or her from the story.

Ultimately, the book is a grown-up version of Dr. Seuss’ “Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!” where, spoiler alert, a long list of tragedies is attributed to a little bug that sneezed a very large sneeze. “The Casual Vacancy” is just that: a tale of one domino knocking down the next.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

OPINION: Election 2012: Don’t just vote, vote smart

By Kassondra Cloos

The Edge

For the vast majority of current college students, the 2012 presidential election is a major first. Most of us were a few years or a few days too young to have a say in the historic 2008 election. But this year, for the first time, we actually have the chance to impact the race for the next president of the United States.

Take this opportunity and run with it.

North Carolina is a battleground state, which means its electoral votes could go either way. The state swung in favor of President Barack Obama in 2008, but it was only by a small margin. As a result, your voice is louder here than it may be in your home state, which may already be pegged as red or blue.

If you haven’t requested an absentee ballot for your home state, consider registering in Alamance County, where you spend most of your year. It’s legal for out of state students to vote here because it’s almost impossible to know for sure where they’ll head after graduation. Unless you are 100 percent sure you are going to move back to your home state after you leave Elon, you’re not doing anything wrong by changing your registration and voting in North Carolina.

Your opinion really counts, and it’s both a privilege and a duty to use that voice responsibly. Don’t just listen to your friends or your parents, and don’t decide solely based on political debates or the appearance of a candidate.

I’ve heard a lot of college students — and, sadly, tax-paying adults with full-time jobs — say they don’t vote because they don’t know what they’re doing. They say they don’t want to be part of the problem. It’s true that ill-informed voters are a hazard. But the answer isn’t to simply refrain from voting. The answer is to educate yourself. Don’t hold your vote hostage because you can’t find the time to research the people who make more decisions about how you are allowed to live your life than you do.

Take some time to think about what really makes you tick. Is it gay rights? Defense spending? Is it student loans, taxes, healthcare or foreign policy? Decide what you want from your president and congressmen and then determine which candidate can best give it to you.

Look at the candidates’ campaign websites, but don’t trust them. They’re trying to appeal to moderate voters, and they’re intentionally vague about what they believe so they can get votes. Instead of taking what you hear or read for face value, do your own research and look up their voting records on important issues at votesmart.org or govtrack.us.

It’s easy to line up your core values with those in either the Republican or Democratic parties and then just vote a straight ticket. But remember, not every politician is the same, and we often see them cross party lines in a few significant ways. Not every Republican is against same-sex marriage, and not every Democrat supports abortion.

If you’ve never voted, make this your first election, and be sure it’s not your last. It’s easy to let life get in the way of staying informed enough to criticize your government. But keep in mind that while voting is a right afforded to every American citizen, complaining about the government is a privilege. And it’s reserved for those who have enough self-respect to exercise their right to cast a ballot.

CBS News’ Byron Pitts discusses role of journalists with Elon students

By Kassondra Cloos

Byron Pitts discussed the roles of journalism and journalists Wednesday night at Elon University. Photo by Kassondra Cloos.

Byron Pitts has seen a lot during his years as a journalist. He was in New York City during the Sept. 11 attacks, and covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for CBS News. Still, despite telling the stories that tug at the heartstrings of his viewers, his job is just that: to tell the story.

Instead of reciting a speech to the sold-out theater Thursday night at Elon University—which he claimed has the best school of communications in the country—Pitts held a discussion.

Several students asked him about covering death, war and tragedy, and where the line should be drawn between seeking information and becoming part of it. But even in the face of catastrophes, Pitts was firm in that the role of a journalist is to find the facts and tell the truth.

“I don’t think my job is to make the world a better place,” he said.

That’s not to say that Pitts has no emotional reactions to his job, which has involved covering so much human turmoil that he opened by saying he makes his living by covering death. He assured the audience that he is affected by what he sees, and that he has observed other journalists’ internal torment, too.

“I’m OK with that because that’s the choice I made professionally,” he said. “What I’m not OK with is indifference.”

As a journalist, Pitts said his job is to be a witness, not a participant. But he urged the Elon community to take an interest in what happens around them, and to strive to be a service to the United States.

“You are citizens of the world and I hope you take that responsibility seriously,” he said. “We see what happens in the world when good and decent people stand on the side, when the best of us isn’t utilized. Certainly, we saw this during Hurricane Katrina.”

Pitts said he was surprised by the lack of attention people gave to those who died in the disaster. He arrived on the second day after the hurricane and saw bodies littering the interstate. At that point, many of them had been there for more than a full day.

Not long before heading to New Orleans, Pitts had covered the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Indonesia. But there, survivors tended to their dead almost immediately after disaster struck.

“How odd, that in a developing nation, people pause long enough to deal with the dead in a dignified way,” he said. “But in our country, the most powerful nation on Earth, we allowed our fellow Americans to be left out on the highway.”

Pitts allows himself to be an optimist, he said, but he also believes everyone—even those in his audience—is capable of doing bad things. Everyone, under the wrong circumstances, has the capacity to take a life.

It’s society’s responsibility to prevent another Hurricane Katrina, Pitts said. It’s society’s job to refuse to be indifferent.

“My job,” he said, “is to seek the truth the best I can, and to report it the best I can.”

Where do you think journalists should draw the line between objective reporting and actively assisting humanity? Take a look at this Storify compilation and share your thoughts, too.

‘Crazy for You’ cast preps for classic, energetic American musical

Video by Kassondra Cloos, Ashley Fahey and Madelyn Smith

Story by Ashley Fahey and Madelyn Smith

They’re just two weeks into the rehearsal process, but it’s clear the actors of Elon University’s fall musical are already having fun.

The cast has been rehearsing five days a week for the upcoming production “Crazy For You,” written by Ken Ludwig with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. The show will open Oct. 25.

“It is truly hilarious,” said Taylor Aucott, a junior music theatre major. “It’s very funny, very cleverly written. Obviously there are (the) soft parts and the more dramatic parts but ultimately, it’s a very feel good musical.”

“Crazy for You” is considered a more traditional song-and-dance style show. It centers around a middle-of-nowhere town in Nevada, where the locals are attempting to put on a musical.

Many aspects of the show are new to some of the cast members, especially following last fall’s production of “Hair.” “Crazy for You” is less centered around the actors and more focused on the actual characters, according to junior music theatre major Karrah Fleshman.

“Hair was based in the late ‘60s,” she said. “It was very experimental and very open-ended. With this musical, it’s kind of more structured, it has this specific story plot and the characters carry themselves very differently.”

With the major numbers in the first act largely under their belts, the cast is busy sharpening dance routines and trying to get off book as soon as possible, said Ben Redding, a senior music theatre major.

“We are showing up to rehearsal every night, putting in those hours and eventually it will all come together,” he said.

Fleshman said rehearsals will relocate to McCrary Theatre starting in October, when the cast will be rehearsing seven days a week.

It’s hard to gauge the progress of the show at such an early stage, Aucott said, but he’s excited to see how the performance develops.

“It’s at a very good place for where we are in the process, but I don’t know what is to come,” Aucott said. “Cathy McNeela and Linda Sabo, our director and choreographer, are brilliant, so I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful. But it’s still somewhat of a mystery to me.”

The players of “Crazy for You” are enthusiastic about the musical’s high energy and witty dialogue.

“There’s a lot of dramatic irony in it, so the audience knows what’s going on, but the people on stage don’t know what’s going on,” Aucott said. “It’s very funny to see how people can handle (it).”

The dance numbers also contribute to the show’s quirkiness and charm.

“A lot of dance rehearsals are kicking our butts,” Fleshman said. “(Sabo) is just a creative genius. In ‘Slap that Bass,’ there’s this iconic human bass number where the girls pretend they’re bass cellos.”

Aucott said it is an entertaining and good, old-fashioned tap show with great dancing, acting and singing.

Other cast members seemed to share the same sentiment. Fleshman, who plays a showgirl, called it a “wonderful show.” She encouraged audiences to look out for the twists and turns of a classic love story.

“It’s filled with dancing and cowboys and love and wonderfulness,” she said.

Kassondra Cloos contributed reporting.